Case 17
L'Abeille et L'Athénée louisianais: In Defence of the French Language.

Nineteenth Century New Orleans saw an explosion of short-lived newspapers. There were 139 newspapers published at least partly in French in Louisiana between 1790 and 1910. Among the papers that enjoyed some degree of success were, Le Moniteur de la Louisiane, the first newspaper ever published in Louisiana in 1794; the anti-slavery La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orléans that was created during the Civil War in 1864 and Le Carillon which introduced itself in 1869 as being "hardly political, even less literary and not serious at all,” but soon became famous both for its irreverence and its vocal conservatism. Many New Orleans newspapers were founded by the “Foreign French,” refugees and intellectuals from the political turmoil of France. The New Orleans Francophone press took up the issues that had animated their political debates at home, and the city’s journalists became known for their work with their swords as well as with their pens. The history of French-speaking journalism in the city is indeed punctuated with famous duels. Founded in 1827, ns L'Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléa( The New Orleans Bee) was about to celebrate its one-hundredth birthday when it released its last issue in 1925. First printed exclusively in French, L'Abeille soon began to include an English section in its columns, but this was abandoned in 1872 because of increased competition from the English-language newspapers. Between 1829 and 1830, L'Abeille also published a section in Spanish, La Abeja. First published three times a week, the paper quickly became a daily. Beside its columns devoted to the news, both local and from Europe-- particularly from France-- L'Abeille followed the lead of a number of papers in the 1840s by embracing a journalism of ideas centered upon the artistic and literary life of the city. Thus one could find in L'Abeille detailed information about musical and theatrical performances in New Orleans. For many years Louis Placide Canonge was in charge of the music and theater reviews. One could also read in L'Abeille the poems composed by the white Creole elite like Léona Queyrouze. But after the Civil War, the French language faced dramatic declines in New Orleans, gradually eliminating the readership for the French- language press. This decline accounted for the creation of L'Athénée louisianais in 1875 by a small group of well-known Creoles including General Pierre Soulé and General G.T. Beauregard . In the official declaration that established the goals of the organization, the members of L'Athénée louisianais pledged to defend and encourage the use of the French language in Louisiana . The group published a periodical entitled Les Comptes-rendus de l'Athénée louisianais (The Records of l'Athénée louisianais) , the quality and intelligence of which were praised by the English-speaking writer Lafcadio Hearn. Alfred Mercier, Charles Gayarré and Léona Queyrouze were among the most regular contributors to L'Athénée. Octave Huard's essay entitled “De l'utilité de la langue française aux États-Unis" ("On the Usefulness of the French Language in Louisiana"), reveals the importance this organization placed on the desperate defense of their language and culture which already seemed to be a holdover from a bygone era. It is in this defensive mood that Alfred Mercier concludes an article published by Les Comptes-rendus de l'Athénée louisianais in November 1880:

But should the fact that we have worked hard to master the English Language be a reason to forget our French? To think that the knowledge of two languages is too much, as has been passionately claimed, is to follow the logic of the fool who, finding that he has too many arms, cuts one of them off. top

See: Edward Larocque Tinker. Bibliography of the French Newspapers and Periodicals of Louisiana. (Worchester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1933).

Case 18
The Free Black Press: Freedom in French

Before the Civil War, the large population of Free People of Color in Creole New Orleans developed a tradition of protest against the injustice they faced. Creoles of Color took up the romantic ideals and republican politics that had long been growing in the city in such institutions as Armand Lanusse’s literary society and the spiritualist religious movement. In the decade before the war, Joseph Barthet, a French emigre to New Orleans, published the newspaper Le Spiritualiste in which the communications between spirits of the dead and New Orleans mediums were printed. The messages revealed by these mediums, some of whom like Constant Reynes were Creoles of Color, were critical of the conservative catholic clergy of New Orleans and endorsed abolitionist publications. The fall of New Orleans to the Union army in April1862 was quickly followed by the appearance in September of that year of L’Union , a French-language newspaper owned and edited by free people of color. L’Union and its editor Paul Trevigne took up the cause of the Republican abolitionists and argued for the liberty and equality of the black south. In the issue of L’Union displayed here, the funeral of André Caillou is described in detail. Caillou, a prominent Creole of Color and a hero of the Battle of Port Hudson, had been an officer in the “Native Guards,” a military unit made up of free men of color. Caillou’s body was accompanied to the cemetery by a grand parade of admirers and representatives of the many benevolent societies and brotherhoods of free-black New-Orleans. Shortly after L’Union folded in July 1864, Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez a Paris-trained doctor and prominent Creole of color, launched the bilingual paper La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orleans, the first daily newspaper published by African-Americans in the United States. top

See: Caryn Cossé Bell. Revolution Romanticism and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in New Orleans, 1718-1868. (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1997).

Case 19
Opera in New Orleans I

The rise and fall of French Opera in New Orleans frames the Nineteenth Century, from the first recorded performance of opera in the city in 1796 to the tragic burning of the French Opera House in 1919. In the early part of the century the New Orleans opera houses imported talented European musicians and singers and presented some of the finest opera in the United States. In 1796 Grétry’s “Silvain” was performed at the St. Peter Street Theater, the first recorded performance of opera in New Orleans. During the 1805-06 season the St. Peter Street Theater presented twenty-three performances of at least sixteen different operas to a city with a population of only twelve thousand people. Soon other companies were brought to the city and a rivalry developed between John Davis, a French-born refugee from St. Domingue who operated the Orleans Theater, and James Caldwell, an American who oversaw the Camp Street Theater. Competition between these theaters mirrored the tensions that existed between the Anglophone and Francophone sections of the city. Each group prided itself on the accomplishments of its opera troupe and boasted of the superiority of their artists. Giacomo Meyerbeer’s “Robert le Diable,” a perineal favorite, first premiered in New Orleans in 1835 at Caldwell’s Camp Street Theater, then opened six weeks later at Davis’s Orleans Street Theater. Critics from the French and English language press each claimed that their company’s performance of “Robert Le Diable” was far superior to the other’s. From 1827 to 1833 Davis traveled with a troupe of fifty performers to cities on the East Coast of the United States during the summer off-season in New Orleans. “Le Pré Aux Clercs” by Ferdinand Hérold was performed in New York by this “Compagnie Française de la Nouvelle Orleans.” Thus Creole New Orleans was, in this respect, an exporter of French culture to the rest of the United States. top

See: Henry A. Kmen. Music in New Orleans: The Formative Years, 1791-1841. (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1966).

Case 20
Opera in New Orleans II

While the Civil War interrupted the New Orleans Opera for several seasons, the New Orleans public soon enjoyed a grand new home for Opera. Designed by the great New Orleans architect James Gallier Jr., and built in 1859, the French Opera House was the home to opera for the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Traveling Italian and German companies were first to perform for the theater-starved public after the war. It was not until the 1867-68 season that a resident company was assembled in Europe and brought to New Orleans to perform at the French Opera House. But various managerial and financial problems plagued the company at the French Opera house, forcing the cancellation of the 1872-73 season. In 1873 Louis Placide Canonge, the New Orleans journalist and playwright, took control of the troubled French Opera House and directed the troop there for two years until he was forced out by a group of disgruntled musicians. After a four year absence, the French Opera House opened again for the 1878-79 season and presented the New Orleans premier of Bizet’s “Carmen” . In the last two decades of the century the French Opera House stabilized under the direction of Frédéric Mauge, and visits by such operatic luminaries as Adelina Patti in 1881 and 1885, and Sarah Bernhardt in 1892 were highlights of the opera season. In 1892 Léona Queyrouze published a poem dedicated to Bernhardt, "Le Sonnet Impromptu" , that praises the world-famous singer. The French Opera in New Orleans gradually declined during the first decades of the Twentieth Century. After a six-year period in which no resident company occupied the French Opera House, there was again in 1919 a French Company presenting grand opera in the city. Six weeks into the season, on December 4, 1919, the French Opera House burned to the ground. top

See: Lewis Joseph Richard Jr. The Development of Opera in New Orleans from the Civil War to the Burning of the French Opera House in 1919. (Unpublished Thesis, LSU, 1959).

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Case 17 L'Abeille et L'Athénée louisianais
Case 18 The Free Black Press
Case 19 Opera in New Orleans I
Case 20 Opera in New Orleans II